Drop the Zion Curtain
Restaurants would be able to take down the ‘Zion Curtain’, as it is often referred to as, if a revised bill can successfully makes its way through the Utah Legislature to amend one of the states most unique liquor laws.
Rep. Kraig Powell, a Republican from Heber City whose district includes Park City, is seeking to change the state’s requirement that restaurants established after 2009 with limited licenses erect a "translucent barrier" or separate dispensing area to protect children from the exposure to alcohol as drinks are mixed.
Powell introduced similar legislation in 2013 and 2014 and it passed the House each time before failing in the Senate.
But HB339 is different from the two previous bills because it doesn’t completely remove the dispensing barrier. Instead, it would allow restaurants to create a separate bar or lounge area for mixing drinks where children wouldn’t be allowed.
"The compromise this year is to try to satisfy the concerns of those who want to protect children by having this separate area," Powell said. "In exchange, alcohol would be allowed to be dispensed and mixed in public view. Its standard accepted practice to see it being poured."
However, some restaurants were "grandfathered in" when the current requirements went into effect and are allowed to serve and mix drinks in public view, which proponents argue creates confusion among tourists.
"If we are spending these millions of dollars bringing in out-of-state visitors to Utah and then they are not able to enjoy a customary, normal dining experience, which for the majority of Americans includes alcohol. We may as well be not inviting them to the state with this particular restriction in place," Powell said.
The logic is if you protect people from being exposed to it, there will be less alcohol abuse, Powell said. But not seeing the alcohol doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be served or consumed, he added.
"As you see how it works in practice, most people can pretty quickly think through and realize it doesn’t produce the desired results," Powell said.
Opponents of the bill include the LDS Church, which argues the current legislation is adequate.
In 2014, the Church released a statement saying it supports legislation "that advances the safety and well-being of all state residents, particularly minors, and to avoid the societal costs and harms that often result from alcohol excess consumption and abuse, underage drinking and DUIs."
The Church also believes strongly that alcohol policy in Utah is "closely tied to the moral climate of the state and legislation should not enable, promote or contribute to an "alcohol culture," the release stated.
Eric Hawkins, church spokesman, said the church’s position has not changed.
But according to UtahPolicy.com, a recent poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, found that "67 percent of Utahns want to take down the Zion Curtain." The poll was conducted between Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 and screened 606 Utahns and has a margin of error of plus or minus. 3.98 percent, according to the website.
Peter Marcy, assistant general manager for Riverhorse on Main, said the separate dispensing area is "absolutely frustrating."
"People want to see you shaking their drinks and they want to see you mixing your liquors together," Marcy said. "But the fact that we can’t, completely diminishes the level of service and the experience."
Marcy wasn’t "as keen" on the cocktail lounge component of the proposal, but he said he believed it would be well received. However, he said a number of restaurants would probably prefer to completely remove the restrictions to have business open to everyone.
As of Thursday, the bill was in the House Rules Committee. If HB339 is approved by both the House and the Senate and signed by the governor, it would go into effect on July 1, 2017.
To track this bill, go to http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/HB0339.html.
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